Bethany Hamilton, the young teenage girl who made headlines for swiftly resuming her amateur surfing career after losing an arm in a 2003 shark attack in the waters off Hawaii, shares her story to hundreds of teens.
The Christian teen was just 13 years old when the 14-foot tiger shark attacked her just over three years ago on the North Shore of Kauai. The shark also took a 16-inch bite out of her surfboard.
Bethany new documentary, "Heart of a Soul Surfer," which is being released by Walking on Water, a Christian surf company based in San Diego, chronicles how Bethany refused to walk away from the ocean sport, despite the amputation of her left arm. Instead, the incident compelled Bethany to reach inside herself to discover her purpose in life. Emboldened by her faith, Bethany was back on her board just three weeks later.
"The main focus (of the film) is the shark attack and how God has used that as a platform to give her an opportunity to share the gospel," said Mike Doyle, director of outreach for Walking on Water.
The young surfer's determined story captured attention nationwide, resulting in media appearances on Oprah, the Today Show and a variety of other shows. She also wrote the bestselling biography, "Heart of a Soul Surfer," which was released in 2004.
According to the producers, the film captures her transformation and digs deep into the heart of Bethany's abiding faith in God, tackling difficult questions such as 'Why does God allow bad things to happen in our lives?'
Doyle said he believes surfingwith its thunderous wavesis a perfect metaphor for the Christian lifestyle.
"There is something spiritual about surfing, something that draws you," he said.
The film's producers included exclusive surf and family footage of Bethany before and after the attack, including her first attempts at surfing with one arm. Many of the frames where shot by Becky Baumgartner, the girlfriend of Bethany's brother Noah. Also on film is Bethany's win at the 2005 NSSA National Surfing Championship, just 19 months after the attack. Walking on Water founder Bryan Jennings, a professional surfer, served as co-producer of the documentary.
"Heart of a Soul Surfer is a powerful story told from the heart of a young woman with great passion and dedication to God," the film's promo material said.
Doyle said Bethany, who plans to turn professional this year, is coming into her own at a time when women are entering the sport in droves. Doyle attributes the influx to the 2002 secular film "Blue Crush,"which chronicled three girls surfing on Hawaii's North Shore and earned more than $40 million at the box officeas one of the driving forces behind the increased popularity of surfing among girls. He said new clothing lines for women, including the mega-seller, Roxy, have also played a role.
"There is an explosion of female surfers now," he said. "It lit a fire under a lot of girls."
The result is a growing pool of exceptionally talented women, many of whom can compete against their male counterparts.
"Now they are closing the gap and giving the men a run for their money and Bethany is a vanguard for all of that," said Doyle.
Walking on Water, a non-profit organization that was founded in 1995 by Jennings, was launched as a way to expose the surfing community to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The ministry's outreaches have also spread to more than 20 different countries.
It began by hosting overnight summer surf camps, but over time Jennings felt the production of surf films with positive Christian messages could widen their sphere of influence.
"It went pretty well even though they didn't know what they were doing," Doyle said.
Another on the horizon
Bethany's documentary is the sixth one produced by Walking on Water. The seventh, bearing the name of the ministry, is due out in the fall. Last year Walking on Water distributed more than 23,000 free copies of its film, "Noah's Arc."
"Now we're a recognized presence in the surf industry," Doyle said. "Our films have won awards and they are consistently as good as what the secular surf community is putting out."
The ministry also conducts tours and provides speakers for various events. The tours allow Walking on Water team members to share the surf films in rented theaters, bars, school auditoriums, and other venues.
To see a trailer for her new film, go to Walking on Water's Web site at walkingonwater.com or call (858) 509-7977.